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A Long-cherished Wish Fulfilled: Zhu Wei’s Solo Ink Wash Exhibition at 798

By Xia Zhen

Translated by Hu Zhu

A solo exhibition that’s been in plan for 14 years was absolutely irresistible to eager viewers, galleries, and artists themselves. On October 18th, this solo ink wash exhibition was blooming and yielding fruits in Cheng Xindong International Contemporary Art Space at 798. In so large a concrete space are only four ink wash works, and Zhu Wei’s latest sculptural works are set in the center of the space.

As early as 14 years ago when Zhu Wei got acquainted with Cheng Xindong, they had agreed on a sure cooperation in the future. It turns out that only 14 years has elapsed and when Zhu’s modern ink wash has long seized a place in world modern and contemporary art scenes can both parties find an opportunity for actual cooperations.

Such an exhibited number of a “museum rank”, in Zhu’s words, and the fashion of the exhibition layout actually deserve our careful savouring and lingering upon. The four ink wash works cover the whole course of Zhu’s art creation from 2005 till today, and they’re something retrospective in nature. The two pieces of Utopia series created in 2005 depict a familiar but ambiguous political background. The Early Spring picture produced in 2007 comes as one of Zhu’s experiments on modern ink wash techniques, in which Zhu aims to apply white space technique in traditional ink wash composition to his own works, to superimpose primitive and simple character images on peculiar coloring effect of ink wash, and to employ wash-old texture to unite modern art with traditional techniques smoothly. Then, there’s also one piece from the new series - Red Flag, created in 2008. This series, depicting fluttering red flags, is rather unified in forms, and, according to Zhu, it’s depictions of the pc-amplified photographed red flags on People’s Great Hall. Zhu believes that even today when reform and open-door policy are in full swing, the political background we’re set in still hasn’t changed a bit, that over our head, behind our back and beneath our feet is still fluttering a red flag against the wind. Zhu has always been an artist highly sensitive to realities, and for him it’s much more down-to-earth and comfortable to sell first-hand experiences than second-hand ones.

The three huge bronze sculptural works set in the center of the exhibition hall are also most eye-catching. They have round heads still; their sensory ogans have been reduced to a pug nose; what differs is characters’ all four limbs are touching the ground like animals. These sculptures are still fashioned in a newly unearthed bronze texture, which seems to make them drift between ancient and modern times. The brevity of their sensory organs derives from images of the earthern Bodhisattva in Han Dynasty; such a rather primitive and rich image and texture might have been the reason why his works are not so difficult and distant for understanding and appreciation as many other contemporary and modern art works are. On the exhibition site there’re frequently enthusiastic viewers taken photos together with these sculptures. Actually, creation of these huge bronze sculptures has cost quite demanding skills and techniques. Proportionally-reduced models can still be cast, whereas such huge sizes have to be artificially hammered out of quite a few copper sheets, the soldering joints between copper sheets have to be abraded with fine sand, and finally they’re fashioned into an unearthed bronze effect.

When asked why all these sculptural works are fashioned into a posture of “kneeling down in submission”, Zhu said it’s the very state of modern man’s life! Modern man still lives and labors under heavy burdens like farming cattle; the state of this society is still obliging you to yield when needed; our life just goes like this. The honest and simple appearance cannot conceal a sharp critical spirit behind the works. Zhu emphasizes "it’s already a habit; when creating works nowadays I always manage to unite with the tradition". I believe such a union is right one of the power sources for his works. He also inscribes on his own works the song words by Cui Jian, the most famous rock music star in China, and signs his works with playful seals, but the shape and structure must correlate with the tradition. After all, modern and contemporary life remains only a fault, being too short compared with a literati life of several thousand years; however, we have no way to return to the past and only have to employ a soft painting brush to fight against the hard society.

When people are used to strolling in the 798 district like visiting a park, is there anyone who will linger long before an art work? When young artists are all plunging into oil painting, installation and other art forms, is there anyone setting about sorting out our thousands of years of art heritage? Actually, it’s not a problem only Zhu is faced with; to promote contemporary ink wash to a higher ground he’ll face even more challenges.